PRIME-TIME PRIMATES: Finger Food
How do you find food in a rain forest at night, when the food is in the form of grubs that live inside logs? The aye-aye, a bizarre-looking and highly endangered primate, has the answer. It searches out cavities in trees and forages for its prey with an elongated middle finger that is a very effective tool. The grubs haven't got a chance. Animal behaviorist Carl Erickson at the Duke University Primate Center devises an experiment to learn exactly how this extraordinary creature finds its food.
Activity 1: All About Lemurs and the Aye-aye
Activity 2: Who's Who Among the Primates?
DNA, organic molecules
anatomy and physiology,
ACTIVITY 1: ALL ABOUT LEMURS AND THE AYE-AYE
The lemurs of Madagascar represent just one family of primates. Nearly 200 species of primates exist today; many are endangered. The aye-aye is believed to be the most endangered primate of all. See if you can sleuth out the answers to these questions, using this episode of Frontiers and other references. ("Madagascar's Lemurs," Scientific American magazine, Jan. 1993, is a good resource.)
- How do scientists believe lemurs first arrived in Madagascar?
- Approximately when did the original, ancestral lemurs branch off from the primate family tree?
- What enabled aye-ayes and other lemurs to evolve successfully on the island of Madagascar?
- Why didn't lemurs evolve elsewhere in the world?
- What is the aye-aye's unique adaptation?
- What evolutionary niche does the aye-aye occupy?
- What are some of the different habitats on Madagascar? What species occupy them?
- Why is the aye-aye endangered? Why are island animals susceptible to becoming endangered?
- How are lemurs different from higher primates?
- Can you find other evolutionary stories of island species similar to that of the Madagascar lemurs?
- Ancestral lemurs (prosimians) probably floated to what is now Madagascar on rafts of vegetation or branches.
- About 60 million years ago.
- Ancestral lemurs found many evolutionary opportunities on the island and geographic isolation provided a lack of competition from true monkeys.
- Ancestral lemurs in Africa became displaced by other species of primates.
- Its middle finger.
- Woodpecker (similar foraging techniques).
- Habitats range from desert to dense rain forest; different species range from the tiny, two-ounce mouse lemur to a 15-pound babakoto.
- Natives, who consider the aye-aye an evil omen, kill it; deforestation is destroying its habitat. Space is limited, and if a disease or predator is introduced, the entire species can be wiped out.
- Their brains are smaller in relationship to body size; they rely more on sense of smell than vision.
- The Channel Island fox, birds on the Galapagos Islands.
ACTIVITY 2: WHO'S WHO AMONG THE PRIMATES?
Select a primate species to investigate and work in a cooperative group to gather information from many resources. Present your findings as a poster or in another visual display format. Primates seen in this episode of Frontiers include: the aye-aye, rhesus macaque, orangutan, capuchin monkey and chimpanzee. Others you could research include: species of New and Old World monkeys, gorilla (a great ape) or gibbon (a lesser ape). Your report should cover the following information:
- Common name of species
- Scientific name
- Native habitats
- Special adaptation(s)
- Evolutionary history
- Social organization
- Communication methods
- Physical size and description
- Life span
- Status of the species
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